The curtain comes down on this year’s festival with a competitive two-and-a-half-mile handicap. There are ten flights of hurdles still to be jumped though and all the big yards are set to be represented here. This race presents a major headache for punters as no favourite has won this in the last ten renewals and and seven of the last ten winners have returned at a starting price of 11/1 or bigger.
The race usually attracts a field of at least twenty runners but in an interesting statistic, five of the last ten winners have won on their most recent start. Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer in the race having landed it four times since the race was established in 2009.
Paul Nicholls has also won the race twice and has fared best of the home-based yards. No horse aged older than seven has won this race since its inception and nine of the last ten winners had at least been placed on their previous start. Irish runners have also taken six of the last nine renewals.
One of 6 in the race trained by Gordon Elliott. Back to form when runner-up at Navan last time under today’s jockey Corey McGivern but plenty of weight here.
Softer the ground the better for Harry Fry’s seven-year-old. Up 3lb for latest fine second at Ascot and with Lorcan Murtagh booked should be thereabouts.
Lightly raced novice hurdler trained by Gordon Elliott. And ridden by Sam Ewing. A winner of two novice hurdles last Autumn the latter a listed one. 4th in a grade 1 last time and in first handicap looks like a player.
Molly Ollys Wishes
First handicap for this Dan Skelton-trained mare who will be ridden by Fergus Gillard. Consistent and despite plenty of weight has small each way chances.
Another Gordon Elliott runner who is also making his handicap debut here. A winner at Wexford last October and has finished runner-up on three occasions since, with his latest effort in listed company. Hard to assess under Ben Harvey but could be well handicapped.
Mark Of Gold
Very easy winner at Kempton last month and has been shunted up 10lb for that win. Gary Moore’s six-year-old may not have as much improvement as others but arrives in good form.
No Ordinary Joe
Trained by Nicky Henderson and won on his re-appearance at Kempton over Christmas. Went off only 6/1 in Betfair Hurdle off of a 5lb higher mark 6 weeks later but was soundly beaten ( may have found the ground too fast that day). Holds each-way claims.
Like No Ordinary Joe is owned by legendary punter/owner JP McManus. Bolted up at Wetherby last time following up a previous win there two months earlier. Has been put up 10lb for that win but that may not be enough and can run well for a stable that’s having a good season in Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero.
Spirit Of Legend
Cut no ice in first-time handicap at Naas last time and will need to do better here under Mike’s O’Connor and the in-form Henry De Bromhead.
One of three Willie Mullins-trained runners. First handicap and ridden by Jack Foley. Won a listed race at Punchestown in December and could be cable of running all right each-way.
West To The Bridge
Hacked up at Sandown last week coming home 19L to the good. Carries a 5lb penalty today for trainer Dan Skelton. Ten years old now though and wouldn’t be certain to back that up.
Looks the most fancied of the 3 Willie Mullins runners here. Makes his handicap debut having been placed in three novice hurdles, latterly when going down 1/2L to Riann at Thurles. Hard to assess but could be well in.
Not disgraced in decent handicap hurdle at Punchestown last time at 33/1. Need a similar effort just to hit the frame. Trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden here by Kieran Buckley.
Missed out by one for the Coral Cup but comfortably gets in here. Trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Angus Cheleda. On a four-timer having got up 18lb in the weights. Still improving and one for the shortlist.
Yet another novice in first handicap trained by Gordon Elliott. Navan winner last time and will be ridden by Shane Fitzgerald. Watch the market with him.
Second of Nicky Henderson’s runners and will be ridden by Ben Bromley in the double green silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Dual winner this season but needs better ground than this so best watched.
In From The Cold
Only had a couple of runs for trainer Gordon Elliott, pulling up in Fairyhouse handicap hurdle and 3rd in Dundalk handicap on all weather. A big price and doesn’t look good enough.
Willie Mullin’s third runner in the race. Lightly raced over hurdles breaking his duck in Punchestown maiden hurdle last time. Another one hard to assess.
Runner up in grade 3 novice hurdle at Thurles last month but has been shunted up 22lb for that fine effort. Hard to fancy with that rise. Trained by Irish handler Paul Gilligan and ridden by his son Jack.
0 from 9 over hurdles though did run his best run in maiden hurdle last time when runner-up. Unlikely to be good enough here for Luke Comer.
Thurles handicap winner in January and not been disgraced in similar contests twice since. Appears to have little in hand of handicapper. Trained by Thomas Mullins.
Capable but has shown nothing in two starts this season and Gary Moore’s 8-year-old will be a shock winner.
One of two Tony Martin horses propping up the handicap. Just the two runs for Martin but looks to be in handicapper’s grip.
Second of Tony Martin’s runners. Shown nothing in three starts for Martin and impossible to fancy.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle Tips
There are several unexposed Irish horses making their handicap debuts that could be ahead of their mark including the Mullins runner Spanish Harlem and the Elliott brace of Cool Survivor and Imagine. A market watch is needed on all three of those. The two I like against them though are the Paul Nicholls-trained Irish Hill, who continues to impress and is chasing a four-timer, and Iroko who bolted up at Wetherby last time.
Irish Hill 16/1 each way Betfred 1/5th 123456
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*Since this article has been written these horses have been declared as non-runners.
All odds are correct at the time of writing.